AZAR COULD BE A TELEMEDICINE CHAMPION: At least one advocacy group thinks the former Eli Lilly executive now heading the health department will advance virtual care.

Alex Azar — whose swearing-in ceremony was peppered with insistence from the president that he would lower drug prices — told lawmakers during his confirmation process that he supported telemedicine and would look to make it more accessible.

The Alliance for Connected Care, an advocacy group that aims to expand telehealth coverage under Medicare and Medicaid, has been “very encouraged” by Azar’s comments, executive director Krista Drobac told POLITICO in a statement. Azar has said he supports value-based care — as opposed to fee-for-service — and that effort could be advanced by the use of remote care, added Drobac, also a partner at Sirona Strategies. “We look forward to his leadership in bringing digital health to seniors,” she said.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) had asked Azar if he would support a provision in the Connect for Health Act, a bill that among other steps would let the secretary waive certain restrictions that block could telehealth from being used to reduce spending. Azar described himself as a “big supporter” of telehealth and “alternative means of providing care,” especially in rural areas.

Azar expanded upon his plans for telehealth in response to questions submitted for the record by the Senate Finance Committee. Sen. Ron Wyden had pushed for detail about telemedicine’s role in the opioid crisis: Azar said addressing opioids would be one of his top priorities, and that he looked forward to working with Congress on expanding telemedicine “to meet the needs of rural and underserved communities.”

In response to a question from Sen. Bob Casey about Medicare and Medicaid telemedicine coverage, Azar said he knew CMS was reviewing comments about regulatory changes and that he expected continued discussions about “the best means to offer patients increased access, greater control and more choices that fit their medical needs.”